Rorate Caeli

Amoris Laetitia is "non-magisterial"? Not so fast ...

{NB: Relevant to this question is Pope Francis's landmark speech on "decentralization" that he delivered on October 17 last year. During this speech, which he addressed to the Synod Fathers, Francis made clear that at the end of the Synodal process, he intended to pronounce authoritatively: "the synodal process culminates in listening to the Bishop of Rome, who is called upon to pronounce as "pastor and teacher of all Christians," not based on his personal convictions but as a supreme witness of “totius fides Ecclesiae” (the whole faith of the Church), of the guarantor of obedience and the conformity of the Church to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ and to the Tradition of the Church." NOTHING in Amoris Laetitia takes back or reverses this statement of intent. Now, the fact that Francis intended to pronounce authoritatively on the matters of discussion taken up by the Synod does not, by itself, make his pronouncement automatically "magisterial", but it also means that it is highly unlikely that this lengthy document was written in such a way that it can be dismissed as a mere expression of papal opinion.}


The following piece was written exclusively for Rorate by a wise -- and very informed -- holy priest who felt compelled to speak out: 
By Father Ignotus

The contents of Amoris Laetitia -- and its approval -- through omissions and coded language, of sacraments for the divorced and remarried, I suppose, came as no surprise to any of us. Over the past three years, Francis repeatedly announced his determination to find a way for this radical change, so we were all conditioned to expect the sound of the explosion when it finally came.

Nor did most of the critical reactions come as a surprise. Writers like those whose posts immediately appeared on Rorate (de Mattei, Socci, Confitebor) denounced the phony, modernist doctrinal/pastoral distinction in the document for the shell game it is.

What did cause surprise, however, was Raymond Cardinal Burke’s commentary on Amoris Laetitia that appeared in the National Catholic Register. Given the strong language that the good and esteemed cardinal had previously used to warn against a change in church teaching and practice on sacraments for the divorced and remarried, we all expected him to come out against the document like a Leo rugiens.

Instead, the cardinal’s public reaction turned out to be something else entirely. 

The Apostolic Exhortation, he said, “is not an act of the magisterium,” but rather is “a reflection by the Holy Father” on the work of the Synod. The theme that the cardinal developed at some length and the conclusion he intended readers to draw was that the document “doesn’t count” as real teaching (magisterium) which would impose an obligation of assent on Catholics.

Rorate immediately weighed in with three short but perceptive observations entitled Three Tiny Notes on Amoris Laetitia, pointing out that such a claim is logically indefensible and that “saying Amoris Laetitia is not a big deal, and not magisterially relevant is simply not true.”

To these points, I would add the following:

(1) At the very least, the form of Amoris Laetitia is that of a “Pontifical Letter,” in which:

“... the Sovereign Pontiff explains Catholic doctrine, gives instructions, or in which, as Father, Teacher and Doctor, he exhorts, admonishes, condemns and expresses congratulations, benevolences, et cetera. At the end is added the clause ‘Datum Romae apud S. Petrum’ together with the date.” (Cicognani, Canon Law, p.84)

Obviously, this is exactly what Amoris Laetitiae purports to do -- to explain doctrine, instruct, exhort, admonish -- and it even includes the final closing formula. It is an official document, issued by the Holy See, and obviously intended to teach. It is makes no sense for Cardinal Burke to say it is “non-magisterial,” or merely “personal.”

(2) The cardinal’s commentary, unfortunately, also blurs the traditional distinctions applied to the term “magisterium.”

In general, “magisterium” simply means “the function of instructing others.” When it comes to the Church, her teaching magisterium (=docens) is directed at imparting the knowledge of sound doctrine and good morals to all the faithful.

Now, in the minds of most Catholics, the word magisterium is automatically linked to the word infallible, as in something such as, “The magisterium of the pope is infallible when he issues an ex cathedra definition about faith or morals.” The popular perception, though, is that, if a papal teaching does not meet the ex cathedra standard, there’s no obligation to believe it or to submit to the teaching.

But this idea is completely false, at least according to the pre-Vatican II theologians, for in addition to infallible magisterium, a Catholic is also bound by what is called "authentic magisterium." This is the way the pope usually teaches Catholic doctrine and moral principles.

It is explained this way: A pope has the “power and office to teach doctrine” and, as a Catholic, you have “the obligation and the right to receive instruction.” The teaching of a pope is authentic in the strict sense, “because of the authority of God’s delegation that the teacher uses.” You would therefore “be bound to give it assent of the intellect,” because his teaching authority is founded in “a mission received from God, to which is attached divine assistance.” (Salaverri, De Ecclesia 1:503ff. His emphasis)

So by this standard, one could hardly dismiss Amoris Laetitia as “non-magisterial” or refuse “to give it assent of the intellect.”

(3) And, indeed, Francis himself has stated that his public statements, including his apostolic exhortations, are “magisterium.” In January 2015, he said:

“Somebody did say to me once, 'Of course, of course. Discernment is so good for us, but we need much clearer things.' And I answered: Look, I wrote an encyclical -- true enough, it was by four hands [with Benedict XVI] -- and an apostolic exhortation. I’m constantly making statements, giving homilies. That’s magisterium. That’s what I think, not what the media say that I think. Check it out; it’s very clear.”

So, whatever other thorny issues the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia may raise, one thing at least is clear: It was indeed intended as at least authentic papal magisterium, to which Catholics normally would be bound to give assent of the intellect.

A “catastrophic document” indeed.